HC Deb 13 July 1915 vol 73 cc778-83

(1) Sections three and five of the Sinking Fund Act, 1875 (which relate to the application of the Old and New Sinking Funds), shall apply and shall be deemed to have applied, to any securities under the War Loan Act, 1914, or any Act extending or amending that Act in like manner as they apply to annuities charged on the Consolidated Fund.

(2) Any securities issued under the War Loan Act, 1914, or any Act extending or amending that Act, or any other enactment authorising money to be borrowed for the purposes of the present War, shall be and shall be deemed always to have been included amongst the securities transfer of which may be accepted by the National Debt Commissioners as consideration for annuities granted by them under the Government Annuities Acts, 1829 to 1882, and amongst the securities in which any money received by the Commissioners as consideration for such annuities may be invested; and the provisions of those Acts relating to such consideration as aforesaid shall apply and shall be deemed always to have applied to such securities in like manner in all respects as they apply to Two and a half Consolidated Stock.


I beg to move, in Sub-section (1), after the word "Act" ["amending that Act"], to insert the words "or any other enactment authorising money to be borrowed for the purposes of the present War."

This is a purely drafting Amendment. When the War Loan Act of this year was originally drafted, and when this Bill too was drafted, it was thought that the War Loan Act of 1915 would be purely an amendment of the 1914 Act. But it took quite a different form. All this Amendment secures is that the National Debt Commissioners shall have power to invest in the War Loan issued under that Act, which otherwise they would not be able to do. The words I propose are simply intended to carry out the intention of the Clause.

Question, "That those words be there inserted in the Bill," put, and agreed to.

Sir J. D. REES

I beg to move at the end of Part III. of the Schedule to add the following words, "Where a blend consists of spirits of different ages the additional duty shall be levied on the average age of the spirit included in such blend, and not on the spirit of the lowest age, which may be so included."

The effect of this would be to impose the duty on the average age of the blend. I will give a concrete instance to illustrate the point aimed at by the Amendment. It is a blend in which you have twenty-four gallons over seven years old, 387 gallons seven years old, 180 gallons from six to nine years, 200 gallons over eight years old, 800 over two years old, and ninety gallons under two years. You there have a blend of 1,681 galons, of which only ninety gallons come under this restriction. The officers of Customs in assessing for duty the ages of the blend, condemn the blend to be of the age of the youngest whisky included. In this particular case the average age of the blend works out at upwards of four years, yet this is condemned, under the present practice of Customs officers, to be a blend of under two years, and it cannot be removed from bond for nearly three years. I have given this concrete case in order broadly to illustrate my Amendment. It is really quite an average case. It is not at all exceptional, and I could easily bring other cases of a like character under the notice of the House. The provisions embodied in Part III. do not touch this case because they only refer to blends made before the 17th day of June in the current year. The Amendment is meant to apply to the manner in which blends can be assessed for the additional duty in future. Any blend made subsequently to the 15th June would come under it. I have another case in which the average age is five years and upwards, but because there is a mere trifle which is under two years it comes under the same hard and drastic—I will not call it law, but administration of the law.

It is in the power of the Chancellor of the Exchequer to do justice in this matter under the existing law; but, at any rate, the Customs officers at present proceed in the manner I have indicated. When interviewed on this subject and asked why they cannot charge on the average age, which appears to be the natural thing to do, they answer that to carry out the proposal would necessitate a large increase of staff. I cannot understand such a plea being put forward after the way in which every staff of every description has of late years been increased to the uttermost limit. I had hoped that my Amendment would have met with the approval of hon. Members from Ireland, but I am sorry I have to face the powerful opposition of the hon. and learned Member for Cork (Mr. T. M. Healy). There is no hon. Member in this House better provided with good reasons for the faith which is in him than the hon. and learned Member, but I would suggest to him, if I may be allowed, that in this matter the feeling of the spirit blenders of Ireland would be with me rather than with him.


It has taken us twenty-five years to get an Act which this Amendment proposes practically to shatter. During that period, time after time, we have endeavoured to induce this House to agree to this small modicum of honesty which is secured under the Bill that has recently become law. Since it became law only six weeks have passed, yet now we have an attempt on the part of the hon. Member who has just spoken to endeavour to secure that the sale of immature spirits shall be allowed to continue, and that the duty shall be charged on the average age of the spirit, which would mean that all kinds of fanciful concoctions would again come on to the market. The hon. Member has spoken of what he says is the practice of the blenders. I deny it altogether. I say that the wholesome provision which this House has made for compelling people who use immature spirits to pay an extra duty is one of the most salutary things that the House has done, at any rate in late years. Why should anybody use immature spirits in a blend? Why should anybody go through that process and then have the whole thing marked on the bottle "seven years old"? Remember that the Government used to lend the moral sanction of His Majesty to what was really a fraud upon the public, namely, by allowing these messes to be made up and the bottles or barrels sent out fraudulently marked. That has been done away with through the activity of private Members, and not through any action on the part of the Government. There is one other thing I hope ultimately to see. When this question was taken up my ambitions went still further. My hope was that certain materials should not be allowed to be sold as spirits, and that only pot-still whisky made from malt and grain should be allowed to be called whisky. If that is done, I do not care what you blend into your spirit, and you can have it at the mature age of one month. The hon. Gentleman (Sir J. D. Rees) said that a very small quantity of immature spirits is going to be used by blenders. It is the old story of the baby being only a little one, and it is exactly the defence made on all these occasions. These moral and innocent blenders are only going to use an extremely small quantity of immature spirits.

The Bill recently passed was not for merely taxing purposes but for temperance purposes. It was struggled against by a large body of Members from the North of Ireland, and it was fought to some extent by the right hon. and learned Gentleman the present Attorney-General for England, yet such was the wave of emotion which the late Chancellor of the Exchequer caused to surge through the country that the Bill was floated into law. After that, are we to be told that the Government should yield on this question? Give us at all events six months or six years to see how it turns out. If any injustice is being done the admirable body of blenders, who have received such a high testimonial from the hon. Member, can knock at the door of this House next year or the year after, and their complaint will be duly considered. This experiment is not two months old, and this is not the time to tear up the plant to see how it is growing.

Sir J. D. REES

This provision is not in the Act.


I know. My plea is that this is not the time to disturb the settlement. Perhaps I might remind the right hon. Gentleman—I know it is is not quite in order to do so—of another matter, and ask him whether he will make a statement as to why the Amendment to which I called attention three or four days ago, a Government Amendment, has not appeared on the Paper?


I can at once relieve my hon. and learned Friend (Mr. T. M. Healy) of any anxiety as to the Govern- ment's attitude on this Amendment. We do not propose for a moment to recommend the House to accept it. It is precisely the same proposal which was before the Committee on this Bill. It was very fully considered, debated, and rejected, and I am a little surprised that the hon. Member for East Nottingham (Sir J. D. Rees) should have raised the question again. There must be some finality in these matters. A settlement was come to, and I really cannot recommend the House to accept the present proposal.


Was there any settlement, or was it not merely a promise to consider the matter?


No, Sir; an Amendment was passed on the previous stage of the Bill. I promised, if the Amendment did not go far enough to meet the views of the hon. Gentleman, to consider any cases of hardship he brought to the notice of the Treasury. We have not had any particular cases brought to our notice, therefore I am not in a position to deal with them. I did not quite gather from my hon. and learned Friend (Mr. T. M. Healy) what he meant by the Government proposal which had not appeared on the Paper. We have no further Amendments.


Are you going to take the Third Reading to-night?




Then I will mention it on the Third Reading.


Was it upon another matter?


Yes. It was an Amendment which the Government promised last year, because a little injustice is being done.


I will consult my hon. and learned Friend privately on the subject.


As I took part in the last Debate on this subject, I desire to remind the Chancellor of the Exchequer that the hon. Member who proposes the Amendment is perhaps not aware of the fact that the promise which the right hon. Gentleman made to the Committee was to consider the case of those who had blended immature spirits before the Bill was introduced, in ignorance of the fact that the Bill was to be introduced, and that he would see that in the administration of the Act they were reasonably considered.

Question, "That those words be there inserted in the Bill," put, and negatived.

Bill to be read the third time Tomorrow, and to be printed. [Bill 120.]